By on June 29, 2011

From its very first paragraph, a recent New York Times article trolls hard for defenders of America’s car-centric culture:

While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Does that not have your red American blood boiling? Stand by for some technocratic condescension from a Euro-crat

“In the United States, there has been much more of a tendency to adapt cities to accommodate driving,” said Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. “Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.”

Though the piece continues generally in this vein, the NYT has blessedly decided that there is “Room For Debate” on this issue, and has posted a number of diverging perspectives on it. Urban planning is a notoriously heated topic, accentuating the urban-rural divide as well as the central-planning-versus-absolute-freedom ideological divide, both of which are more pronounced in the US than in Europe. With this in mind, let’s make sure we approach this topic in a respectful, constructive manner. It’s a topic that will inevitably come up again in the future, so let’s take this opportunity to practice discussing it without resorting to ideological name-calling. [HT: David Holzman]

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99 Comments on “Europe: Silly Americans, Cities Are For Pedestrians...”


  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I think the age of the city is probably highly relevant here. Older cities (such as one might find more in Europe) did not develop or evolve with automobiles in mind, particularly near the city core. Streets can be narrow and may seem to wander about as the lay of the land or traditional uses may have dictated. Hence it may be more of a problem trying to make them automobile friendly.

    Younger cities, other other hand (such as one tends to find in North America) may have been explicitly designed with automobile use in mind (with grid patterns, wider thoroughfares, and so on), and hence may be better able to accommodate automobile traffic at a larger scale. Of course, they may not have been designed for current levels of density and intensity of use, but they still might be better suited to maintaining a larger proportion of automobile traffic than much older cities.

    • 0 avatar
      carloss

      I’d add that maintaining automobile traffic that is not ultimately the goal. Moving people is.

      I also think that framing the issue as “central-planning-versus-absolute-freedom” suggests assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. American cities are already subject to “central” planning. (for example, you can’t stick a day care right next to a smelting plant. You can’t stick one next to a busy road or if they let you they make you put a certain length of grass or a brick wall between the cars and the kids.)

      New Urbanists (mixed-use development proponents, or whatever they’re called) would tell you that it’s about de-emphasizing automobile traffic where appropriate.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    I think the most important point to remember in this regard is that most European cities have existed for hundreds, or even thousands of years before the invention of motor vehicles. Cities were by and by for pedestrians and the odd drawn carriage.

    The United States, meanwhile, was still taming the Western frontier when cars came around. There was a lot more room for expansion of cities and suburbs, leading to a much more car centric culture.

    That said, who among us actually enjoys navigating through cities? I love driving, but traffic =/= driving, and with the number of cars on the road now, I feel like there is very little we can do to make driving through a city any less congested. I’d much rather have public transportation options on the city outskirts that will take me downtown, rather than battling traffic just to get to my destination, and then wasting time and money finding a place to park, only to end up walking a few blocks anyway…

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I agree, on pretty much all counts.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Hear hear,

      I hate driving in Atlanta, but that is infinitely preferable to driving in DC, which is infinitely preferable to Manhattan, which is infinitely preferable to Boston.

      Driving is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but the thought of doing so in a city like London or Rome gives me indigestion just thinking about it. Million+ inhabitant cities simply have an expiration date when it comes to automobiles.

      • 0 avatar
        Forty2

        I’ve driven in all of these cities, in stickshifts. What is so bad about Boston? Nothing was as bad as the endless escape-from-NY tunnel queue. I added 2″ to my left quadriceps that day. Boston is Peoria compared to Manhattan, and no N. American city compares to Shanghai or Bucharest. Actually, this week, I think the York/Markham area of Toronto is the worst in N. America.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        I’ve rowed gears in all of those NAmerican towns too. What makes Manhattan slightly more pleasurable than Boston (particularly for an outsider) to drive through is the wide boulevards and predictable perpendicular streets.

        The problem with Boston is (particularly for an outsider) most of the roads twist, turn, and t-bone. It seems particularly well adapted to horse-cart and ped traffic, much like London and Rome.

        Last time I crawled through Boston was last autumn. I had just shy of 1/4 a tank when leaving Providence, and entered Beantown on ~2-gallons when some non-rush hour jam livened up my day. I could see the gas station signs tantalizing me in the distance as my on-car computer’s mileage forcast slipped from 55 miles down to 5. Harrowing. Never again.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m blessed with being able to avoid really bad traffic, by virtue of self-employment, and being able to choose for the most part the hours at which I go into Boston. And I will say that the heart of Boston is a driver’s nightmare.

      But the Big Dig cut the time it takes me to get to Logan Airport from 45 minutes plus (usually a big plus) to about 25 minutes, with never any traffic through the tunnels. It’s absolutely amazing.

      And when I lived in DC, near Catholic U, I could drive downtown at any hour without much tie-up.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the other big issue is efficiency in driving. When I drive through my midsizeish city (500,000k), almost every single car has only one person in it. Sure, there is the odd Smart car, and (being Canada) we have a lot more compact cars, but still its entirely inefficient to be driving around a several tonne chunk of metal to house one person. I’m just as bad on this score, and I bet many of us are. Luckily (as has been stated), we have tonnes of space and gas is cheap. But will that continue? I think not, since their is a focus on concentrating urban buildup into smaller areas now to prevent urban sprawl, AND fuel will always be getting more expensive. So, I would say that currently we have different circumstances than Europe, but that we will have much more similar ones in about 50 years.

      • 0 avatar
        Roundel

        A very pertinent reason as to why so much traffic exists. Everyone has pruchased a car they will use 5-10% of the time, if that.
        Does everyone really need a midsize sedan to drive 20 miles to work… nope.
        Exactly the reason why I drive and own a smart.
        Now I know that not everyone can have the luxury of being able to use another car when the times comes, but thats the reason why Enterprise exists.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    A decent car belongs on a city street about as much as a dog belongs in dog fighting pit. Yeah, the venues are built for them, but it’s unfair/cruel to both the dog and the car for the same reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Tell me about it. My friends Honda Civic that is parked on the street in Chicago looks like it has been through a demo derby. Primping and waxing a city car is a waste of time and money.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    In my line of work I’ve seen housing developments all over the country built during the boom and they are the worst of all worlds: houses crammed on small lots linked by large roads. You don’t have open space around your house; and you can’t walk anywhere. The benefit of small lots is it creates enough pedestrian density to support lots of services that can be accessed by walking. The downside of small lots is lack of open space. The upside of large lots is open space; the downside of large lots is forced motorized transit.

    Suburban tracts have the worst of both: small lots and forced motorized transit. Older residential areas have the downside of small lots but the accompanying upside of easy walkability. What a waste to have built all those unwalkable suburbs with small lots. We’ll be fighting oil wars for the next century to pay for that decision.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      That is another externality that is not paid for by the home owners, developers, etc… I have no problem with people wanting to live in the suburbs. I just want them to pay for what it REALLY costs. I suspect most would choose not to if they actually had to pay for the luxury of suburban living.

      • 0 avatar
        vento97

        Not an issue for those who live AND work in the suburbs…

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, I’m glad to see some people feel the same way. Living on a 50 acre farm in a rural setting, we have to drive everywhere (although, we try to bike and walk as much as we can). The difference is, we plan our trips efficiently, and we enjoy beautiful countryside and privacy as a trade. I’m looking into forms of offsetting my increased footprint, but that is another story.

        Suburbs though? They are just a sad form of urban sprawl. Sure, everything is new (for now), but everyone is forced to drive everywhere to get in and out, usually services are limited or further away, and often lots are very small, and offer no privacy or the advantage of nature.

        Canada has a huge issue with this right now. All of our cities are suffering massive urban sprawl issues with these types of ‘burbs, and the vast majority are poorly designed to allow only for a lot size big enough for McMansions. Add to that that most of this sprawl happens over Canada’s best agricultural land. It just seems like such a poor solution for a population’s needs, and somewhat short sighted. Not that my farm is any better in that way…

  • avatar
    carguy

    This is also about the availability of alternatives. If a good public transport system exists then people will use it. I frequently visit southern Germany and most of the time I don’t bother driving because the public transport is convenient, cheap and clean. However, there are those who are pushing urban policy here in the US that is hostile to drivers without providing any meaningful alternative. I have no problem with pedestrian friendly cities but we better invest in public transport first and not just punish drivers.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The thing with Europe is: They haven’t built anything new since the middle ages and their cities barely accommodate horse carts, but do accommodate bicycles quite nicely.

    Of course, that’s facetious, but the bigger question I have is why do so many Europeans want cars in the first place when they have outstanding public transport and a rail system I’d die for?

    Perhaps I’m way off-base, but it appears too mant autos have created gridlock over there and I’m sure car ownership has resulted from increasing prosperity and a sense of independence. Everything comes at a price, no matter what.

    • 0 avatar
      PaulieWalnut

      “the bigger question I have is why do so many Europeans want cars in the first place when they have outstanding public transport and a rail system I’d die for?”

      Two reasons come to mind; public transport won’t always take you where you want to go, when you want to and driving is fun! I’m not running a car at the moment because I’m living in town but that doesn’t stop me fantasising about picking up a Citroen DS Safari and making runs down to the beach at the weekends for surf and fun.

      If the boring commute was removed from existence, people would have a more positive attitude towards the car and the freedom it provides.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        Exactly! Commuting kills the enjoyment of our cars. I live and work in Manhattan. The car stays in the garage almost every weekday (except when I haul my guitar and amp out to band practice in Astoria one night a week).

        On weekends, I do as my European friends do which is to leave the city for driving on country roads. The only issue is dealing with the traffic getting in an out of Manhattan.

        And, it needs to be said again, good public transit is a revelation. Here in Stockholm, it’s first-rate. Yes, gas costs 8 dollars a gallon, but you can ride the buses deep into the countryside. I saw bus stops everywhere last weekend 100km northeast of the city.

        I have lived in the suburbs and I would never go back. People can, of course, choose to do so. But for me, my last suburban experience was deeply disappointing.

    • 0 avatar

      I once got gridlocked riding my bicycle on Rue de Rivoli in Paris. I was eventually able to flee to another street, but that sort of driving would be a nightmare.

    • 0 avatar

      Zackman: “They haven’t built anything new since the middle ages”

      That’s actually very much not the case. The inner cities are in a constant state of re-development, and European cities have very much spread out too. Quite a few Europeans live in “the suburbs”. But even the suburbs are well connected with public transport.

      It’s a generalization, but the majority of Europeans have a car not to drive to work or the store, but to get out of the city, on weekends, or to the IKEA or…

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Ha ha! Of course I was being silly, I realize they rebuild to the same style as the original architecture, but I did not realize urban sprawl happened on the mainland, besides Britain.

        Thanks for bringing me up to date!

        To your comment about cars to get out of the city – well, now I better understand why hiking in the mountains on weekends was/is such a popular activity, especially in Germany and Austria.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The problems for many European cities are that they have no room for cars, and they have a need to make the cities more livable for the majority who don’t have or use cars in the city center.

    The problem for many American cities is competing with the suburban shopping mall, which offers plenty of parking and a crime-free (albeit sterile) environment.

    Different needs for different places. The Europeans built high-rise slums in the suburbs and warehoused their poor in them; the American middle-class fled the city centers for the suburbs, leaving the traditional downtown to the poor. Assuming that the policies are primarily meant to serve the middle classes, the same policy can’t be used to help such different situations.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      > the suburban shopping mall, which offers plenty of parking and a crime-free (albeit sterile) environment.

      You obviously haven’t been to the Arundel Mills Mall just south of Baltimore near the BWI airport (I call it Assault-and-Battery Mills)…

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      the American middle class fled the cities, aka white flight… but they are coming back to the city. Now. The poor who were left behind, who subsequently trashed the once nice inner city neighborhoods are headed for the burbs.

      Guess what happens when they take their culture of running everything into the ground via zero or minimal or flat out wrong maintenance? In 20 to 30 years the suburbs in the US are going to be in a sorry state.

      Bus service does not work in the suburbs. Everything is too far apart, and the street network is fuxed. The American burbs are going to be a sprawling ghetto.

      Be smart, but a city place now before your suburb is turned into a ghetto.

      I’m an urban planner.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        the American middle class fled the cities, aka white flight… but they are coming back to the city

        While there is some evidence of gentrification, there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding death of the suburbs, either.

        The US has added 60 million people to its population within the last 20 years. Even if a portion of those end up living in cities, the majority of those still end up living elsewhere. Suburbia is adding people, too.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Dynasty, where is your proof of that? Cite some studies saying that suburbia is going the way of inner cities and there is an ongoing exchange of populations. I’ve never seen anything claiming that but of course I’m not a professional like you. And you make white flight sound so dirty too.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Anyone who as seen a roadmap of Paris, London, or nearly every other European city marvels at anyone getting anywhere in such a horrific road system.

    Already mentioned, the U.S. caught a break when it was decreed properties would be on a grid systems almost from the very beginning. As such, high hills were bulldozed down (Seattle sluiced a huge hill into Puget Sound at the turn of the century with the Denny regrade) to force the earth to conform to the grid.

    OTOH, avoiding being stuck in the ex’s apartment until public transportation is running is worth the cost of private transport.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      I think part of the Denny regrade in Seattle was to gain a whole bunch of land. Not entirely just to make the land conform to the grid.

      • 0 avatar
        flomulgator

        The grid in that part of Seattle is craaaazy, so it wasn’t that. The hill (Denny) was too big and too steep. It was basically a continuation of Queen Anne Hill, but steeper sided and closer to the city. Eroding it made the area much better for industry, but left some homeowners, literally, high and dry. The whole regrading of Seattle was pretty insane by today’s standards, and makes for a fun read.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regrading_in_Seattle

  • avatar
    fredtal

    My best commute was from the suburbs into San Fransico using the rapid transit trains BART. Took about an hour, but I could read the paper, take a nap, talk to friends or just stare off into space. With gas and tolls it was probably cheaper, definetly less stressful.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I wouldn’t say my commute in Atlanta on the MARTA trains was my best commute, but it was my smartest one. I lived on the south side of town near the airport, and my job was near Buckhead (northern central city). Driving to work could take an hour, or more depending upon conditions and weather. The train almost always took 45 mins, of which I could read or sleep if I wanted to.

      It was much easier on me and my car.

    • 0 avatar

      I just moved ten days ago from San Jose to an apartment across the street from my work in Pleasanton. I now walk to work, avoiding my 28-mile commute, I can walk to BART and go to Oakland, SF or SFO and many places in between. There are more services (restaurants, shopping, etc.)within walking distance of my apartment than there were in a 5-mile radius in my former “bedroom community,” since that was built to concentrate housing, instead of having been designed with services and transit to support the resident population.

      I enjoy driving, but I’m also enjoying saving $200 a month in gas, plus maintenance, too.

      Unfortunately, too many communities, especially in California, just weren’t designed to accomodate this. The “car culture” here isn’t all it was cracked up to be, once gas rose above a buck a gallon.

      Europe’s got it right, but it was by design and circumstance over a long history of evolution. We grew too fast to think about ramifications out here.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      When out in the Bay Area on business and on vacation, most recently in 2009, I was astounded watching the traffic reports on TV – people commute into the City all the way past Tracy and equally far points! There’s definitely something wrong with that! Can’t imagine doing that.

      Although in about a month or so, my commute (unless I find another job) will be 100 mi. r/t, it will be against the traffic flow, so that’s one concession. Still, I’m not looking forward to it.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Coming from ‘the old country’ I agree that a lot of European cities were never built with the motor car in mind, however the extent to which some cities in the UK are ‘Anti-Car’ is astonishing.
    Take Oxford for example. The entire city center is off limits to cars. There are huge pedestrianized areas, and the only usable roads are for buses only – lets not mention the fact that most of these buses are empty. Parking around the city center? Meters? Ha! How about the extortionate rate of nearly $30 (adjusted) for 3 hours in a run down, vandalized, nearly empty multi-story? Why this expense? Well the local council wants you to ‘Park and ride’ from the edge of town. What if you do accidentally drive down some of these ‘bus-only’ routes (like I did by mistake)? Well there are huge banks of CCTV cameras all across the city to catch you out and get you a nice big fine (think $300).
    Don’t get me wrong, certain UK cities are a nightmare to drive around due to the age and layout of the city, but the crypto-communist attitude of the Oxford local council towards ‘the Bourgeois’ who own and operate cars in the city is terrifying in the extreme. They have made it absolutely clear that in their eyes – owning and trying to drive a car in Oxford is a socially reprehensible act which must be punished.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “Coming from ‘the old country’ I agree that a lot of European cities were never built with the motor car in mind”

      What about that French guy, Cugnot, who invented that steam-powered, three-wheeled monster in the 1700′s and promptly ran into a wall?

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        Trevithick’s 1803 1.5 ton steam carriage was a tiny bit more successful. They actually managed to steam it up a hill before the crew got drunk and left it in a shed where it caught fire. Again, a 1.5 ton machine would have either sunk in the mud or smashed the crap out of the few cobbled streets in existence.

    • 0 avatar
      outback_ute

      I visited Oxford 2yr ago, and knowing of the “system” parked and rode, it worked well. Not to mention that the parking accommodation provided by the P&R sites would be impossible to create in the city centre.

  • avatar

    First off, it’s not like urban planners have had such a stellar track record of success. Remember it was urban planners who thought it was a great idea to tear down low cost housing and move the poor into public housing projects.

    It’s hard to have a debate on the issue, I’ve found, because most of the anti-car activists will publicly deny that they are hostile to cars or waging a war on the car. It’s always about “quality of life”, but they can never seem to come up with anything positive to say about cars.

    Still, just about every one of their proposals is either designed to make things more inconvenient for drivers or it has the same ultimate effect. They don’t add bike, transit and car pool lanes, they take away lanes from cars for those purposes. They don’t like it when stores provide free parking, and they want curbside parking either eliminated or priced at market rates.

    Most of these policies seem to want to make cities more expensive. The land use activists who oppose sprawl (one reason why they hate cars is that cars let you live where you want to, not just withing a 30 minute walk to a streetcar line) want us to live in densely populated areas, increasing demand from renters and home buyers, driving costs up. They want to make it so that only the wealthy can afford to have a car in the city by making sure that regular folks can’t afford to park. The result of those policies would look something like San Francisco or New York’s upper west side.

    I think it’s really about control. In reading some of the activists who use regional and urban planning, land use, highway construction and parking ordinances to make it more difficult to use cars, they will frequently describe cars the same way that car guys will, they allow you to go where you want to go when you want to go. Car guys think that kind of freedom makes the car a good thing. The anti-car activists bemoan that the car gives people many choices about where they live, work and play.

    • 0 avatar
      carloss

      You lost me, especially at the last paragraph. I can’t truly speak for people who mask their intentions but I don’t believe that the anti-car folks’ true intention is to control people. I think their true intention is to reduce the personal, environmental, and quality of life costs that cars impose.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Quantify those costs that cars impose. You write as if we all agree that cars impose a certain agreed upon set of costs but we don’t all agree on that. If you could quantify and better explain your statement then we would have something to debate or maybe agree upon.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        You lost me, especially at the last paragraph.

        I can’t blame you. It didn’t make any sense.

        There isn’t a subject on earth that Mr. Schreiber can’t politicize with a pinko-commie-socialist-liberal-leftist (because they’re all the same to him) bogeyman. He believes that talking about said evil nasty bogeyman relieves him of any and all responsibility of defending his argument — he has the luxury of devoting the bulk of his time to finger pointing, rather than inconveniences like data collection or fact checking.

        Just so long as there are pinko-commie-socialist-liberal-leftists involved, he believes that he has done enough. And since there always are pinko-commie-socialist-liberal-leftists who oppose him, it is always enough.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        PCH, if you would try and refute Ronnie’s statements, you would have accomplished something. Instead you went off on a name-calling rant that had nothing to do with his post. Except that you didn’t like refuse to admit he may have some points. For instance, can you point out a good outcome in urban planning in this country? I’m looking forward do your defense of urban planners.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        if you would try and refute Ronnie’s statements

        All he did was gripe about some unspecified “anti car activists” and their alleged desire for “control”.

        There’s nothing to rebut. He didn’t say anything substantive. Lots of verbiage, remarkably free of factual content.

        I get it — you want to drive everywhere, for the sake of it. That’s lovely, but that isn’t much of a policy.

        Incidentally, I’ve worked in many parts of the country, including Little Rock and some other parts of Arkansas. In my opinion, they are quite poorly suited to mass transit, for a variety of reasons. If I chose to, I could throw some numbers and data points together to show why that is probably the case. Could you?

      • 0 avatar
        carloss

        @MikeAR: I’m sorry, I don’t have the background or time to debate this correctly. A quick Google search brought me to this report from Maine’s State Planning Office. http://www.maine.gov/spo/landuse/docs/sprawlandsmartgrowth/costofsprawl.pdf Page 10 talks about the increased cost to taxpayers when towns are built outward versus in a compact manner. Building out results in increased car use. I hope we agree on that.

        For a big picture look at these issues read “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream” (http://www.amzn.com/0865476063). It’s a quick, interesting read.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Little Rock is poorly suited for mass transit but that didn’t stop city planners about 20-25 years ago from trying to make a good portion of downtown pedestrian only. That just about finished off every business in those blocks. And like it or not mot of the country isn’t suited for mass transit and before anyone says differently, I’m talking area not population density.

        But the fact is that there are a lot of car haters in the city planning field. You can debate whether or not anti-car city planners have a control fetish or whether restricting cars is the best idea. I personally think that it’s not, on their parts, so much control as it is they see cars and drivers as wild cards in their plans for the perfect city. A driver can go wherever he pleases, can live wherever and so on. He can also change plans on the fly and isn’t bound by schedules or the grandiose schemes of the planners. When I think of urban planning, I think about Albert Speer. Not because I equate planners with Nazis but because their plans, like Speer’s just never are quite right. Ther is always something lacking.

        I would like to see someone discuss urban planning (renewal) from the other side of the arguement. Either to defend it or to admit it was mostly a bad idea.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Little Rock is poorly suited for mass transit but that didn’t stop city planners about 20-25 years ago from trying to make a good portion of downtown pedestrian only. That just about finished off every business in those blocks.

        Downtown areas in much of the country were already on the slide. The retail was moving out to the suburbs. The big box retailers that Americans have grown to like largely don’t fit in downtown areas, and are better accommodated by malls that are closer to where they live. The urban planners simply couldn’t match that.

        Bruce below did a decent job summarizing the issue. I’ll go further — in many European cities, the main functions of a city (government, public space, entertainment, retail and business employment) are fairly close together. In the US, we have largely broken these apart. So the problem for many US transit planners is that they can’t just connect a single central hub with a series of spokes, but they have to figure out how to link several hubs with a sprawl of spokes — in many cases, this is an impossible task. This makes mass transit in much of the US far less efficient that it needs to be if it is to work.

        On the other hand, it can work in some places, and it is absolutely critical in some others. A position that completely opposes mass transit everywhere is just dumb beyond belief. New York would collapse without it; there’s no way to put all of those people into cars, and even if you could, they’d have no place to park. There isn’t a single policy that will work for everyone, but Little Rock is not Manhattan.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      I’m a leftist, and I kinda agree with a part of Ronnie’s post. ‘Car haters’ make life inconvinient to the people who actually need cars, allthough I don’t believe that they want to control people.
      On the other hand, I don’t understand how people can live with a car in any big city.The only big American city I’ve been to is New York, and I can’t see any reason why anyone would willingly enter Manhattan in a car they had paid for themselves, and the combination of subways and Yellowcabs make personal cars uneccessary.) I wouldn’t own a car if I lived in any smaller Norwegian city. So I choose to live on the countryside, not too far away from the nearest city.
      I don’t think cars are very good for the invironment in big citys, but one shouldn’t ban cars downtown unless there is a decent alternative.

    • 0 avatar
      evan

      Anyone who accuses urban planners ‘of waging a war on cars’ and then writes about how its hard to have a reasonable debate on the subject is a wonderful source of irony. Thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “Still, just about every one of their proposals is either designed to make things more inconvenient for drivers or it has the same ultimate effect. They don’t add bike, transit and car pool lanes, they take away lanes from cars for those purposes.”

      The problem stems from the fact that it is basically impossible to “add” new lanes for non-auto purposes in an urban area that has already been built out, unless they take land from other uses, like retail or housing. I’m sure that you would find such takings equally offensive. The existing pathways in a city can only be repurposed, and since most of those pathways have been devoted to cars (including space once devoted to trams, trolleys, etc.), it’s inevitable that car usage is going to take the largest hit.

    • 0 avatar

      There isn’t a subject on earth that Mr. Schreiber can’t politicize with a pinko-commie-socialist-liberal-leftist (because they’re all the same to him) bogeyman.

      Please look up a couple of words, projection and strawman.

      I don’t believe that I used any words that you mentioned in my comment. Now if you happen to think that the various land use and transportation activists that always happen to propose policies that negatively impact on drivers are representative of the left, well that’s your assessment.

      I was talking about people who want to control others. Though I never mentioned anything about leftists or socialists, you immediately assumed that’s what I was talking about. I guess even lefties acknowledge it’s about control.

      He believes that talking about said evil nasty bogeyman relieves him of any and all responsibility of defending his argument — he has the luxury of devoting the bulk of his time to finger pointing, rather than inconveniences like data collection or fact checking.

      I base my comments on the land use, planning, and transportation activists whose writings that I’ve read. I believe that’s called data collection and fact checking.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Please look up a couple of words, projection and strawman.

        It’s an accurate way to describe your writing. Instead of providing a factual argument, you simply claim that anyone who disagrees with you has bad motives. It’s something that you do consistently, and it’s neither conservative nor liberal, but just sloppy and lazy.

        I was talking about people who want to control others. Though I never mentioned anything about leftists or socialists, you immediately assumed that’s what I was talking about. I guess even lefties acknowledge it’s about control.

        Look, we all know the code, and you just admitted that you were using it, presumably in order to feign compliance with Mr. Neidermeyer’s request to “take this opportunity to practice discussing it without resorting to ideological name-calling.”

        Instead of intelligently discussing the topic, you instead want to insist that there is a conspiracy to take away your car. That’s not an argument, that’s a cop out.

        I base my comments on the land use, planning, and transportation activists whose writings that I’ve read.

        Translation: You read crappy blogs that favor your political viewpoint and support your conspiracy theories.

        I’ve reviewed quite a few city redevelopment and revitalization plans. Most of what you say is either complete nonsense or blown out of context In most cities, there are minimal parking requirements for many types of businesses and uses; not only are they not eliminating the parking, but developers are required to provide it. A developer who can’t provide enough spaces finds that the deal isn’t going to be approved.

        Instead of referring to your McCarthyistic vague list of enemies, come up instead with some cogent argument in favor of a pro-car/ anti-transit position that doesn’t require some sort of “enemy” to provide your suggestion with legitimacy. DC Bruce managed to make some points in a manner that suggested that he actually gave some thought to his position. You should take some notes.

      • 0 avatar
        philipwitak

        re: “I was talking about people who want to control others.”

        attempting to control or even influence the actions of others within high-density urban environments may be a good thing or a bad thing. seems to me that the ‘intended purpose’ of that ‘control’ makes all the difference. i tend to prefer some reasonable degree of urban planning over the lack of same – and the utter chaos that often results.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      I was reading this comment thread and thinking how pleasantly surprised I was at the nonpolitical and insightful nature of the comments, and the multiple and interesting perspectives people brought to it. Then I got to Ronnie’s comment. Oh well.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      First of all this is a CAR blog.
      I would like to read a lot fewer car bashing, anti-car postings. How many of you guys drive everyday and just hate yourselves for doing it? Save your self-hatred for yourself and stop belittling the rest of us, OK? I know misery loves company, but how about listening to guys on a car blog who are pro-car discuss reality?

      Naturally Ronnie is correct. And what he wrote is only understandable to those with an open mind capable of reading it.

      There is a difference between a European city and Los Angeles. European cities have many problems regarding transportation in the auto age, and so does Los Angeles. They are different problems. One set of problems isn’t better than the other.

      I loved living in Europe because I loved living without a daily car commute. But I hated everything else! Not having a car is terribly incovenient. I got tired carrying everything on me. When it rained, which was often, it sucked! When I rode my bike, I had to triple lock it so it wouldn’t be stolen. In the pedestrian areas, I had to get off, handle all my stuff, and walk the damn bike!

      Ever have kids? Are all you anti-car guys eunics? Ever live for someone else? When when you have kids, cars are absolutely essential. Thanks to the Nanny staters, you have to lug around major poundage of padded crap to protect your kids from perceived dangers. With every kid you have, you need a way of containing all your stuff, your kids, their stuff and function. A city without kids is a dead city. It is San Francisco. You want to design a city transportation that is anti-parent? That is pretty much what we have here. European birth rates are so low, the countries are freaking dying out. The massively inconvenient transporation systems helps justify so many European’s decision to not have children. European cities are not family cities, unless you consider having ONE child a family.

      It is about control. It is about freedom. It is about a group of know it alls who think that having spent a few vacations in Europe that Europe is the future. It isn’t. Europe is the past. Live there and discover why your ancestors had the balls to pack up and move to the US! Paris is a wonderful city. I love it. But not to live. But not to thrive. Not to thrive as a family man. Even Parisians leave when they discover that they have functioning genitals and love building a family of more than one child.

      So stop kissing European ass. The solutions to transporation in the United States are here in the damn United States. Boston is not Los Angeles, let the Bostonians do what they do best, and let the newer cities of the US do what they do best. Stop trying to dictate some kind of policy onto a continent of vastly differing economies, peoples and cultures. Stop pretending that centralization works. Stop empowering elitist morons who live in universities writing bullcrap that has no place in reality.

      Ronnie is right. If you can’t respectfully read him, than you have the problem, not him.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Naturally Ronnie is correct. And what he wrote is only understandable to those with an open mind capable of reading it.

        I’m sure that this was meant to be ironic.

        So stop kissing European ass.

        Oh, I guess not.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        Well said, the number of anti-car posts has always amazed me.

      • 0 avatar
        MoppyMop

        Somehow I don’t think calling your opponents “eunics” is what Ed had in mind when he called for debating in a respectful, constructive manner.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        “A city without kids is a dead city. It is San Francisco.”

        Holy mackerel, VanillaDude, you’re correct about San Francisco. We were there two years ago, and there wasn’t a screaming baby anywhere! Come to think of it, the only place you’ll see kids is at what has become a freak show, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39!

        You do see young people, but those are tourists, too. I wonder why? I have a couple of my own thoughts, but this is about cars.

        By the way, it’s “eunuchs”.

        Good post.

      • 0 avatar
        andrewpmk

        I wouldn’t describe European cities as nearly as anti car as you describe. Plenty of people in Europe have cars. Certainly, old city centers are very car unfriendly (though nearly always driving is still allowed) but that’s not nearly as true in the suburbs and even less so in rural areas. For instance though the city of Paris proper is very car unfriendly (and there are subways everywhere so you don’t need one), the public transit isn’t nearly as good in the suburbs which is where most people live and work anyway. And in smaller cities and rural France, cars are very popular, many people live in houses in the suburbs, and the freeway network is just as large as USA or Canada. Finally, European cities are fairly family friendly (aside from historic city centres) – France has a higher birth rate than Canada even though Canada is far more suburban in nature.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      “First off, it’s not like urban planners have had such a stellar track record of success. Remember it was urban planners who thought it was a great idea to tear down low cost housing and move the poor into public housing projects.”

      Urban planners have a TERRIBLE track record……… that goes far beyond public housing projects.

      There fall from fame began right about the time the GIs were returning home from WWII, and the VA began guaranteeing VA home loans creating a huge boom in residential construction. But of course, all the now idle factories at GM, Ford, and Chrysler needed to make stuff, so the best way to keep them busy was by building cars so the Gov’t built the interstate.

      Looking back it may be easy to see the mistakes that were made, but I don’t think anybody could have possibly realized there was going to be a baby boom and the problems that was going to cause with the inefficient use of land.

      Post WWII urban planning has been a failed experiment.

      And it really wont be until the old guard retires or passes away that we will be able to fully move on. The old guard being old urban planners, insurance companies, fire departments, banks, and everyone else that shapes the urban fabric.

  • avatar
    Brad2971

    I wonder what all these folks who think cities are mainly for pedestrians would say about a place like Salt Lake City? That’s a city in which the Mormon planners laid out their streets in such a manner that those streets would be wide enough for a team of oxen to do a U-turn.

    Result: Every block in Downtown SLC has streets that are wide enough for four total lanes PLUS a center turn lane.

    With that going for it, along with agressive sets of plans for both freeway-widening AND extensive light-rail, you would wonder if the Wasatch Range has any traffic problems.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    I think a lot of people would pay a high price to live in the suburbs so they don’t have to deal with stupid and psychotic city people. Once a city passes a certain density, the people start turning into neurotic parasites and then vote heavily for political violence and their own destruction (ie, Detroit)…Suburbia is an escape from this city violence.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    In the U.S. at least, in order to understand the antipathy du jour against autos, one needs to recall the former “transportation policy” of the 1960s. That policy was to build freeways everywhere, including right through existing cities. The effect of this was to slice up city neighborhoods, in some case surrounding them or cutting them off from everything else.

    As already has been mentioned, it’s also important to remember that, in the U.S. there are only a handful of cities of consequential size that predate the mass use of automobiles (i.e. pre- WWII: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore (now in decline), St. Louis, Chicago, and San Francisco. These cities kind of look like European cities; they have pretty heavy density and they have pretty well developed mass transit systems. With easy access to rail and/or waterborne transportation, they were industrial centers as well. Today, that economic model is no longer viable, with unfortunate and visible results for Baltimore, St. Louis and, to a lesser degree, Philadelphia. The “old” cities that are still viable have done so by re-tooling themselves for the post-industrial economy.

    The rest of the present large U.S. cities, look in varying degrees, like Los Angeles: there are employment clusters surrounded by suburban housing. Their configuration is the product of people’s desire for more personal space and the availability of inexpensive personal transportation (i.e. a car) which makes this possible.

    It seems to me that much of today’s “new urbanism” is a reactionary attempt to re-construct an idealized, imagined urban and small-town past from the current suburban “sprawl.”

    My personal view is that it is doomed to fail for two reasons: (1) people’s desire for suburban living was/is not “irrational” and is not explained by some antipathy towards minorities (although antipathy toward street crime typically associated with dense urban areas is real enough) and (2) the availability of modern communications technology which makes the whole concept of “going to the office” seem wasteful and stupid . . . whether one is spend an hour a day driving a car or an hour a day riding mass transit. Maintaining office space is a huge cost for most employers, so if this can be eliminated or even reduced, there is a tremendous incentive to do so. Finally, “virtualizing” work gives both workers and employees flexibility to change jobs without relocating physically.

    Which is a very long way of saying that pouring tons of money into expensive mass transit (and subways are really expensive) strikes me as potentially quite wasteful.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Philadelphia is shrinking back to its pre-industrial roots. Center City looks good, and several neighborhoods near it are either thriving or reviving. The outer neighborhoods still within city limits are the declining ones.

  • avatar
    nvdw

    As already mentioned, it’s a space issue. Cars that drive into town mostly need someplace to park too.

    My hobby it isn’t, but driving a car in Amsterdam is physically possible. You can get surprisingly close to where you want to go even in the oldest parts of town. The problem is: when you get there, where do you park? And if you’ve been lucky enough to find a spot, which usually takes another half an hour of uselessly driving circles around your destination, are you willing to pay €5 an hour for the privilege?

    And that’s just from a visitor’s perspective. Imagine you live in Amsterdam, and you own a car. Unless you want to pay the hourly rate on the streets for approximately 16 hours a day, you need a parking permit which allows you to park on those spots without having to fill the meter. However, the amount of permits is fixed, so you can queue up for the next several years. If you happen to live in a part of town where the council has decided to remove parking spots (thus permits), or to give permits to owners of a cleaner car first, you have been given lots of ‘negative incentives’ not to own a car. I think the traffic planners in most European cities use the same principle: scare car drivers out of town with high parking fees, and fleece the people that still defy those. You can add some Congestion Charge zones to the equation (like London) to up the price of using a car in town, or use ‘Umweltzonen’ (‘green areas’, refer to BS for a more accurate translation) to weed older cars* from the city centres.

    In my view the ‘pro-pedestrian planning’ is simply the result of the car having being useless in town for a long, long time. All the other benefits (environmental issues) are bonuses.

    *) NYT mentions these Umweltzonen as areas where only cars with low carbon emissions are allowed, but that is not true: Umweltzonen discriminate on European emission standards that limit every tailpipe emission bar CO2

  • avatar
    geeber

    For all of the talk about responsible Europeans using mass transit, and irresponsible Americans driving everywhere, the simple fact is that when one visits Europe, one sees lots of traffic within the cities, and even traffic jams on the fabled Autobahn during peak vacation season. Several lanes of traffic come to a complete halt for miles.

    According to the book The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike, by UCLA Historian Peter Baldwin, cars account for over 80 percent of the distance traveled in 11 western European countries. That figure only dips below 80 percent in Denmark, Austria and Ireland.

    Apparently, Europeans love cars, too. Judging by the cars that Europeans do build, I’d say that they love them a lot, and take driving quite seriously. Mr. Baldwin’s book confirms this.

    • 0 avatar
      carloss

      According to the book The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike, by UCLA Historian Peter Baldwin, cars account for over 80 percent of the distance traveled in 11 western European countries.

      Interesting. What is that number for the United States?

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      True, we have just been lagging behind abit with the whole ‘aircon/automatic/power-everything while sitting in traffic-jams’ bit. (50 years behind tbh)

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    For my current city of residence I have found the traffic light timing tends towards a perfect double interval as I walk each city block in the downtown area; I rarely need to stop once I reach the crosswalk, which is more than adequate for my city access needs. Still, it’s not quite as pleasant as my time in Honolulu which, with numerous park areas scattered along my route, was the most pleasant city for me to walk home from work in.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    For what it’s worth, here’s a real world case of cars vs. pedestrians and how it works out:

    Sometime back in the 90s, my wife and I visited Memphis for the first time. Being blues fans, we wanted to visit Beale St., but when we got there, we found that nothing seemed to be happening to make us want to stop. As a result, we drove down the street, then headed over to Graceland, where we got out of the car and took the tour. Last year, we were passing thru Memphis again and decided to take another look at Beale St. This time we found that the city had turned several blocks into a pedestrian mall. I believe that they do this on weekends only, but I’m not sure. We were directed into nearby parking, got out and walked the street this time, eating, drinking and taking in several great performances. Local drivers were most certainly inconvenienced by the closure, but local businesses took in money they otherwise would have missed. So is this a case of urban planning favoring pedestrians over cars, or just good business practice?

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Beale is an exception, it’s a perfect example of getting people out of their cars and improving everyones’ experience. That doesn’t really translate to most downtowns because they have become business center not retail and tourist centers. Most downtown traffic is either workers or people with specific business downtown and mass transit may not work well for a lot of them.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    The biggest reason for suburbs is that it’s cheaper to build out than up.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      IF you don’t factor in the externalities.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        The problem with “factoring in the externalities” is that it always loads ALL of the costs on a particular trend or product, and ignores the benefits.

        The simple fact is that moving to the suburbs represented a huge improvement in the standard of living for those who did so. New urbanists of 2011 like to pretend that everyone in, say, 1950 New York City or Philadelphia was either a single person living the Sex and the City lifestyle or a family living in a Park Avenue apartment with a doorman, maid and nanny.

        The simple fact is that most neighborhoods in urban areas were crowded and dirty (and unbearably hot in the summer). The apartments were dingy, cramped and not all that attractive. The majority of people could not afford an entire rowhouse, let alone a Park Avenue apartment.

        Moving to the suburbs represented a huge improvement in the living standards for those who could afford to do so. And moving everyone – or even a substantial percentage of suburbanites – back to the city would result in considerable crowding and a less pleasant life for all city residents. Which is why that the majority of Americans continue to express a preference for a house with a yard.

        It’s like wailing about the “costs” of indoor plumbing versus an outhouse and an outdoor water pump. Yes, one is a lot more expensive than the other two, and requires much more initial investment. But, is anyone ready to back to using outhouses and pumping the water they use everyday to save money? Thought so…

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The problem with “factoring in the externalities” is that it always loads ALL of the costs on a particular trend or product, and ignores the benefits.

        Externalities are, by definition, costs.

        If you want to know the benefit and the net gain or loss, then you do a cost-benefit analysis that includes both the benefits and the externalities.

        There’s nothing wrong with calculating externalities. If you want to know what the net benefits or losses are, then the externalities need to be calculated.

        Where there is reasonable area for conflict is that there is no single, universal way to calculate externalities, so they are subject to disagreement, debate and, in the worst case, tampering by those who have agendas. If you don’t like the outcomes of an externalities calculation, then reevaluate the data set and assumptions that are used to calculate them, and present your own alternative.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        My objection is that too many of these studies ignore the benefits of various living arrangements or activities. So, in that respect, you are correct – I’d like to see more of a cost-benefit analysis.

        It also seems to be that, when it comes to the urban-versus-suburban debate, there is a disconnect as to what life was like for the majority of city dwellers in the late 19th and early- and mid-20th centuries. It was pretty rotten in many ways. Many of today’s trendy cities are much more pleasant precisely because of deindustialization and less crowding.

        If the Philadelphia of 2011 was much like the Philadelphia of 1930, filled with loud, smoke-belching factories and locomotives arriving daily at various city railroad stations, and large tracts consisting of 2-3 families living in one divided rowhouse, I doubt that many young professionals would be considering a move to Center City or Rittenhouse Square.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        My objection is that too many of these studies ignore the benefits of various living arrangements or activities.

        The problem with that is that now you’d have a study that is carrying two sets of somewhat subjective assumptions, on both the cost and the benefits side. That can make things even muddier.

        I think that you’re asking the wrong question. Instead of griping about studies because they calculate externalities, look instead at their underlying assumptions and data, and figure out whether there may be anything that is specifically wrong with or questionable about them. The studies may be (at least in your mind) overpricing some things, overestimating the number of people who pay that price, etc.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Try driving in Bruxelles without getting a nervous breakdown.
    Very dense traffic.
    Narrow streets.
    Bumpy roads that will destroy your expensive rims.
    Lack of signs.
    Next time i´ll get a hotel room outside the city, and take public transport/taxi to the center.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Every time I see an anti-automobile article in the NYTimes, I think of the Duke of Wellington’s comment that the railroads were not a good idea, because they would encourage the lower classes to move about excessively.

    I have lived in New York, and yes, you can live without a car in Manhattan. Probably more easily than you can live with a car. But I live in Ohio now, and it is very difficult to live here without a car. It is also cheap and easy to own a car here.

    The bottom line is that different places, need different things, and the NYTimes should stick to commenting on its own neighborhood.

  • avatar
    flomulgator

    I grew up in the suburbs in what, for a time, became the second most congested city in America. Like many cities, a hub-and-spoke model made traffic worst at the choke points near the outer ring of the “actual” city. I worked and commuted in it too, so I’ve suffered traffic as bad as anyone.

    Now I live in the city that everyone’s trying so hard to get to. Shockingly, traffic is better in the city core itself. I’m as much if not more of a car nut than most people on this site, and I continue to own an enthusiast’s car in the city center. Since I don’t drive 45 mi. r/t to work @ $4/gal anymore, the garage fee is easy to swallow. Driving is more fun for me now than it ever was when commuting. But if I’m just getting around the city I use my feet or my bike (really I wish they’d get rid of one lane on every 3rd street for a better bike lane/sidewalk, but that would digress from my main point).

    Really what my point is is that your commute, is LITERALLY, killing you. Walking and biking are better for you physically, taking a bus/train/not leaving home are better for you mentally. All are better for you professionally.
    I’m sure most of the miles a person drives, and thus most of the gridlock, are wasted on commuting. And being such an insufferably BAD STYLE of driving, it drives (bad pun) people into something automatic and beige. Fortunately $4 gas will help kill the everyman commute, and new suburban work centers, urban housing renewal, and telecommuting will help on the incentive side. I am hopeful that these will help slide the trend of commuting medium to long distances from “every American must do it” to “some unfortunate Americans have to do it”.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      I just left a major urban area and my commute went from 7 miles ea. way on 2 buses and a train to 34 miles driving each way. I arrive at work prior to traffic getting bad & leave when people can only go speed limit+10. Driving is a NICE way to unwind rather than deal with the sick people, rude people, packed trains & busses w/ insuffient AC in rush hour. OOps: I forgot that i don’t have to deal with secondhand smoke at the bus/train stop either.

      It’s been 2 years and I have 0 regrets. I actually feel sorry for the people that are stuck on public transport like I was for my first 15 years out of h.s.

      Car = NO MORE freezing to death for 20 minutes when the bus tracker said I bus should be there but doesn’t show up in January. NO more needing a shower after taking the bus/train anywhere near rush hour for 1hour+.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        I used to commute by bus to work from an upper end neighborhood to city center and it was pleasant…..

        However, riding the bus from cracked out neighborhoods is a daunting experience. Although the time the man with the trench coat got on the bus and flashed everyone was pretty funny.

  • avatar
    obruni

    i was suprised to see how many undergound parking garages exist in Paris, and how inexpensive they were compared to other cities (120 euros a month in prime neighborhoods)

    Paris’ major problem is the metro. Capacity has not changed much since the 1970s, and the system has reached its limit. On some lines such as the RER A, trains can pass by every two minutes, and they are completely packed like sardine tins. this isn’t just a rush hour phenomenon either.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I certainly love my cars and driving, and I live on 20 acres in the sticks and spend about an hour a day in my car… almost none of it in heavy traffic. So I am no new urbanist.

    But when I visit cities that have good public transit, I enjoy it immensely. Maybe it’s the tourist experience. But good public transit definitely provides a feeling of freedom that’s different from driving a car, and neither is better than the other, so I reject the premise that car friendly or not is a question of freedom vs. control.

    In a pedestrian friendly city with good transit, there are other freedoms: To be able to hop a train or bus and be whisked where I want to go, and then when I get there hop off and walk to my ultimate destination without looking back to make sure the car is locked, parked properly, I’ll remember where it is, etc. Not to mention that I didn’t have to find a parking space, worry if the people parked next to me will ding my car, the transit stop is closer to where I’m going than any avaialble parking spaces and I don’t have to drive around aimlessly looking for parking, etc etc.

    Both experiences rock, in different ways.

  • avatar
    redav

    I don’t think the issue is so much about density as it is about distance. Transportation is a non-value-adding activity. I live in the ‘burbs, yet I drive very little because I don’t have to go very far (~6 mi to work, and that’s the farthest thing away).

    If the distribution of jobs & housing were aligned, you could dramatically reduce commutes, which eliminates most traffic. That then would mean less road capacity is required and less maintanence costs. It also means less costs (fuel, maintenance, replacement) for drivers, not to mention more free time and less stress. It also reduces pollution.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @redav: “Transportation is a non-value-adding activity.”

      Don’t you mean commuting is a non-value adding activity? ;)

      Transportation (as a whole) adds a lot of value to things. Commuting, not so much. If you can commute where you aren’t actually driving, then you can add some value to commuting, sometimes in the personal sense and now (with over the air internet networking) you can add value in the economic sense, too.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        Commuting is not necessarily a non-value adding activity. A commute may allow a person to access a higher paying job. In some cases, a commute may be the ONLY way to gain access to a better job.

        In many rural areas of Pennsylvania, for example, one either commutes to work, or sits at home, or works at the local convenience store/fast food establishment.

        Commuting also allows a person to avoid expenditures that outweigh the costs of the commute (higher real estate prices, or higher taxes) or other negative factors (crime, lousy public schools).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Commuting is not necessarily a non-value adding activity.

        Redav is correct. Unless someone is paying you additional money to commute, it is not a value-add activity.

        Commuting may be a necessary expense. It may be the lowest cost option among several alternatives. But it doesn’t add value.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        If you are commuting to a higher-paying job, and the pay increase from the current job, or other available jobs in the immediate vicinity, outweighs the cost of the commute, in a sense you are being paid additional money to commute. The commute makes the higher paying job possible in the first place.

        In the areas around the Harrisburg and Pittsburgh metropolitan regions there are plenty of people who commute anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, twice a day, because most of the available jobs in the rural parts of the state have lousy pay and virtually no benefits.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If you are commuting to a higher-paying job, and the pay increase from the current job, or other available jobs in the immediate vicinity, outweighs the cost of the commute, in a sense you are being paid additional money to commute.

        Commuting isn’t increasing the income of that job, it’s just the price to be paid for getting to the higher paying job.

        You need to distinguish adding value from net benefit. The commute is a cost, period. But that cost may be worth paying, depending upon the situation.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        @geozinger,

        What I mean is that moving (transporting) an item from one location to another does not change that item. It is still the same thing, but it’s now there instead of here. Since it is the same item, transporting it has not improved it, in other words, has not increased its worth or value. Therefore, the activity of transportation is non-value adding.

        I do not mean to imply that a transportation system (such as roads & rail lines) are not valuable tools to the economy. Moving stuff is necessary, but the less you have to do, the better & cheaper it will be.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “If the distribution of jobs & housing were aligned, you could dramatically reduce commutes”

      I have for years had this idea floating around in my mind, where, in order to re-vive many cities is to start with the most devastated part of town, move the remaining residents to better housing, bulldoze the entire area – it must necessarily be a large area, and essentially build a new community that people with jobs will move to that reflects an environment similar to a suburban environment – meaning less crowded housing lots, but not the meandering one-way-in, one-way-out neighborhoods that exist currently. Do away with every other street on the grid. This makes a less-congested, more livable environment. progressively expand from there. In other words, duplicate the old 1930′s inner suburbs just outside the city limits into city center. Just a thought.


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